The facts about Sam Sumac are hazy, at best. Any details we have about his life come from his own handwritten autobiographical sketch, Please, Don’t Forget to Pay the Debt. According to this, he was born in Buffalo, New York, exactly ten months after VJ-Day, to an unwed Polish woman by the name of Ewa. While he never knew his father’s identity, Sam describes his childhood as a happy one spent with his mother in a home near the Buffalo-Kenmore border. He claims to have attended various elementary, junior high and high schools throughout his youth before enrolling in the State University College of Education at Buffalo for one year, where he majored in Physics. He dropped out to enlist in the United States Army.
Sam contends he was conscripted as a tunnel rat during the Vietnam War due to being just over five feet in height. While those early days of his military training brought him some moments of happiness, his deployment to the combat of the war only damaged him. Although unsubstantiated, Sam alleges that entire companies of subterranean soldiers were given a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs before heading into the tunnels to do battle with their North Vietnamese enemies. He believed these induced narcotic highs led him to have many out-the-body transformations, which he repeatedly calls, “his enlightenments” in his writings.
Sam attributed the combination of the violence of the war and these unauthorized military experiments for his nervous breakdown. According to him, the stress of the tunnel warfare and the impact from the unstable narcotics caused him to be briefly institutionalized in a military psych ward in Pennsylvania. Prone to fantastical hallucinations during this time, most involving alien invasions, time travel, the apocalypse, the Oil Crisis, the Middle East, and the gruesome punishments of many of the people he held as responsible for his ordeals (Especially, a Morton Hunter from Altoona, Pennsylvania – allegedly a special operative with the CIA who Sam blamed for the administering of narcotics to Sam’s unit.), he spouted a nonstop string of prophetic stories and sagas. He says his mental health gradually improved with care, until, ultimately, he was well enough to be discharged from the Army.
When he returned to Buffalo and found out his mother had passed away some time during his hospitalization, he rented a house in the same neighborhood of his childhood and began working as a salesman at a local shoe store. While this job might not seem too exciting to most, Sam reported he, “had a thing for feet,” so the work appealed to him deeply. During this time, while living alone and working full-time, his compulsion to write down the stories inside his head hit him. Sam spent every spare moment, including writing late every night, putting onto paper the bizarre delusions from his time in the tunnels and the military mental hospital, and, in the process, he created a series of science fiction stories.
He vividly describes not being able to contain these stories as they flowed out of him. During these writing frenzies, he wrote without purpose or order. He merely transcribed all the imagery and characters as they came out. This manic period of creation never left him enough time to edit or to prepare a manuscript for publication before the next story needing to be penned demanded his attention. He aptly recounts how he felt like a faucet of stories which he was unable to be shut off.
Then, one day, Sam Sumac disappeared. When his landlord went to check on him after not receiving his rent payment, there was no trace left behind whatsoever of the man. The police were called, but they quickly decided there was no evidence of foul play, so no further official investigation was needed. However, it is still unclear — even at this point in time — what actually happened to Sam. He simply vanished.
Some would like to think he changed his identity and moved to another city to resume his writing in a new locale. Others have a darker interpretation. Regardless, whatever happened to him is just part of the mystery of Sam Sumac.
The world would have likely forgotten all about the man if it were not for several boxes belonging to him being discovered in a storage unit a year after his mysterious disappearance. Due to the lack of an annual payment for the storage and the absence of any next of kin on his rental application paperwork, these unclaimed items were given by his ex-landlord to a fellow employee at the same shoe store Sam worked. When this individual opened the boxes and saw their contents, he resealed them and put them in his garage, where they were undisturbed for nearly twenty five years.
Finally these boxes of manuscripts landed in the hands of a retired Episcopal priest who was asked to claim the possessions of one of his former parishioners who’d recently passed away. It was only when these were finally opened that the writings of Sam Sumac were exposed to this world.
These boxes were brimming with vast, intermixed and disarrayed heaps of handwritten pages on different types of paper and done by various writing implements. With no organization or order, the process of collating and transcribing has been a maddeningly complicated and time-consuming endeavor.
Piss & Vinegar, apparently written in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, is the first attempt to get something a Sam Sumac story into a completed format. It is hoped that more of his novels might eventually come out some time in the future, but the Herculean effort needed to accomplish this make the task a very slow process.
So, sit back and enjoy these words from an unknown genius, Sam Sumac.